France began the development of its nuclear energy program in 1945 with the creation of the Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique, or CEA, by the provisional government of General de Gaulle. The CEA has supervised the development of all atomic applications in France ever since, following the long inheritance from French scientists in nuclear physics.
The CEA worked with Electricité de France, the state-owned only French utility, to develop and industrialize a 100% French reactor type: UNGG technology (Natural Uranium, Graphite moderated, Gas cooled). EDF began commercial operation of the first UNGG reactor in 1963 at the site of Chinon. FRAMATOME is resposible for nuclear power design and engineering services, and nuclear fuel manufacturing. COGEMA is specialized mainly in products and services for the nuclear fuel cycle, while ANDRA is resposible for long term waste management and storage.
One of the missions the French government entrusts to CEA is to take complete charge of designing and manufacturing the nuclear warheads of the French deterrent force. CEA designs the warheads, including the payload and casing, and is responsible for manufacturing and maintaining them, as well as dismantling them. The CEA Military Applications Division also helps in developing new conventional weapons such as torpedoes.CEA plays a major role in nuclear deterrence, continueing the missions entrusted to it by the government, especially as concerns the development of the Simulation program tools to ensure the lasting credibility of the French deterrent force after the end of all nuclear tests in 1996. The Military Applications Division has re-organised its missions around four poles: nuclear materials, from fundamental research to manufacture, non-nuclear materials, physical research on weapons, and numerical simulation. When the nuclear warheads currently in service reach the end of their lifetime, they will have to be replaced. CEA will have to design and manufacture the replacement warheads and guarantee them without further nuclear testing, since the signature of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, in September 1996. The Simulation program consists in ensuring the reliability and safety of nuclear weapons without recourse to full-scale testing. To do so, controlled experiments will be performed along with numerical modelling studies, to understand in fine detail the physical and chemical phenomena involved in the operation of the weapons. CEA is thus working to perfect major experimental facilities like Airix, an X-radiography machine installed on the Moronvilliers experimentation centre near Rheims. This is used to observe hyper-rapid deformations of materials in order to validate the corresponding computation models. In the field of naval propulsion, the two nuclear reactors of the Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier were tested in 1999 and CEA also did work on the design of new missile-launching and attack submarines. CEA contributed to surveillance of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).